As you may (or may not) know, the MadOpera staff has undergone a changing of the guard. In addition to General Director Kathryn Smith, MadOpera also has new faces in marketing, patron services, and artistic and office management. This past weekend marked the first production for the new crew, and it was quite a weekend!
Eugene Onegin proved to be a hit with the audience!
Scott Ramsay (Lenski) and Hyung Yun (Onegin) just before the fatal shot.
The critics seemed pleased, too:
77 Square – “Madison Opera’s rich Russian gamble pays off”
The Isthmus – “Madison Opera’s Eugene Onegin tells of love and regret”
The Russian Folk Orchestra and Russian Educational Association were very popular, as well!
Patrons arrived early to listen to the Russian Folk Orchestra.
Artifacts and cultural facts from Russian natives.
It was an exciting weekend of great opera. Thank you to everyone who came out to Eugene Onegin— some of you to both performances! — and to those who stopped the MadOpera staff in the lobby to express your appreciation. We encourage you to email your comments and let us know your thoughts.
Eugene Oneginopens tomorrow night! We have an absolutely fabulous cast, and everyone here at MadOpera has had a blast over the past few weeks. During the rehearsal process, this blogger got a few moments of the singers’ time to hear their thoughts on love, understanding their characters, the music of Eugene Onegin, and why the opera is a must-see:
It is perhaps no surprise that Pushkin’s life so closely resembled the events in Eugene Onegin, right up to and including the fatal duel. The poet wrote himself as the narrative character, and his fingerprints are evident in every verse. For Tchaikovsky, the composer of the opera, it was not art imitating life, but rather the other way around.
Tchaikovsky and Eugene Onegin
When it was first suggested to Tchaikovsky to adapt Pushkin’s poem into an opera, the composer was appalled. In a letter to his brother, Tchaikovsky called the idea “wild”. How could he dare take such perfect verse— and nationally treasured verse, at that!— and transform it into an opera?
The very same night the suggestion was made, Tchaikovsky re-read Pushkin’s work and was inspired to sketch out the structure of the opera. He wrote Tatiana’s famous Letter Scene in one sleepless night, and used it as the basis for his operatic vision.
As Tchaikovsky delved deeper and deeper into Eugene Onegin and its characters, he found that he was moved most by the young, passionate Tatiana. As the book and libretto took shape, the composer found in Tatiana a muse and a heroine. Her sincerity touched him, and he abhorred Onegin’s cruel mistreatment of such an innocent and courageous girl.
It is undeniably Tchaikovsky’s infatuation with the fictional Tatiana that led him to make a mistake that nearly ended his life.
An Unfortunate Marriage
Little is known of Antonina Miliukova’s life before her marriage to Tchaikovsky. She was a student at the Moscow Conservatory, where she and Tchaikovsky met briefly, and spent much of her adult life working in Moscow and Kronstadt as a music teacher.
Although Tchaikovsky could not recall having met Antonina, the brief interlude made quite an impression on her. Twelve years after their first meeting, Antonina sent Tchaikovsky a letter confessing her love for him. Tchaikovsky rebuffed her, stating that he could never return her love and that their life together could only be one of sorrow and resentment.
Tatiana was a girl of 17 when she encountered Onegin and fell in love. Antonina had been 16 when she first met the man she would marry, though by the time she wrote her own confessional letter she was nearly 30-years-old. Nonetheless, Antonina’s letter contained a similar sweetness, turmoil, and intermingling of hope and despair to that which characterizes Tatiana’s letter.
The parallels between Antonina and Tatiana did not escape Tchaikovsky. Neither, to his horror, did the parallels between himself and Onegin. Appalled at his own behavior, Tchaikovsky rushed to set things right with Antonina, proposing to her in an effort to convince himself that he was nothing like the selfish, jaded Onegin. Tchaikovsky wrote in a letter to his friend and patron, Nadezhda von Meck: “It seems to me as if the power of fate has drawn to me that girl.”
Tchaikovsky and Antonina married a few months after she sent her letter. In the following weeks, the composer finished Eugene Onegin, suffered a deep depression, and attempted suicide by throwing himself into a river in the hopes of catching pneumonia. He wrote letter upon letter to his friends and family of how he despised his wife, and the temporary fever induced by his opera that had led him to make such a regrettable choice.
After only a few months of marriage, Tchaikovsky and Antonina separated. They never lived together again.
The End of the Tale
We can imagine many scenarios for what became of Onegin after Tatiana’s rejection of him. Perhaps, awakened at last to love, he moved on from Tatiana and found it with another woman. Maybe he spent the rest of his life a bitter man. The same is true of Tatiana. She could well have found true joy with her husband, despite Onegin’s presence in her heart. Or, the second encounter with Onegin may have soured her marriage for her, and the lonely years that passed left her a shadow of her former self.
In the opera, Madama Larina tells her bright-eyed daughter that life is not like a novel, a lesson that Tchaikovsky, like Tatiana, failed to heed. And though the end for Tatiana and Onegin was bittersweet, it was nothing but bitter for Tchaikovsky and Antonina. They remained married until the composer’s death, but Tchaikovsky felt nothing for his wife other than resentment and hatred. It is recorded that the mere mention of Antonina’s name could send him into a panic attack.
Antonina’s tale ends sadly. She spent several years in a live-in relationship that produced three children, all of whom Antonina was forced to surrender to orphanages and all of whom died in childhood. The last twenty years of her life were passed in an asylum, where she eventually died. Though history has often been harsh to Antonina, framing her as a stupid and selfish woman, some sympathetic scholars describe her as warm and sincere, and utterly bewildered by how her powerful love could end in such sorrow. In this light, it is possible that Tchaikovsky was never mistaken about her similarities to his beloved Tatiana.
The set has been erected. The costumes are perfectly fit. The Madison Symphony Orchestra has joined the party. The singers are in beautiful form. Eugene Onegin is coming together here at Madison Opera. Tonight is our final dress rehearsal, and here’s a taste of what you’ll hear this weekend:
Maria Kanyova and Hyung Yun sing the final duet, followed by Scott Ramsay singing Lenski’s aria.
The following is written by guest blogger Kylie Toomer. Kylie is the new Artistic and Office Manager for Madison Opera. She received her B.A. from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and her M.M. in Performance from the University of North Texas, where she studied with renowned American Tenor Richard Croft.
Many of us may reminisce on our adolescence and fondly (or not-so fondly) remember our “first love” and the tumultuous feelings of excitement, expectation, and doubt. “Should I confess how I feel?What if they don’t feel the same? But, what if I say nothing? I have to say something!” Then the moment comes: you finally get up the nerve to bare your soul. Your palms are sweaty, you cannot stop fidgeting, you forget to breathe, and you lose all ability to form a coherent sentence. You finally blurt out: “I-like-you-will-you-go-out-with-me?” Good thing you spent all that time rehearsing in front of the mirror!
Tatiana with a romance novel (Lidia Timoshenk)
In Tchaikovsky’s most famous opera, Eugene Onegin, we meet an adolescent who is discovering her first love. Tatiana, a young country girl who always has her head in a romance novel, meets and instantly falls for the mysterious Onegin. Tatiana resolves to tell Onegin exactly how she feels in one of the most celebrated scenes in the opera, the “Letter Scene.”Tchaikovsky brilliantly portrays Tatiana’s feelings of exhilaration and hesitation as she pours out her heart to Onegin. Tatiana is young, but she understands the possible consequences of telling Onegin her true feelings. Nevertheless, she is compelled by a stronger force—that of fate— and ultimately succumbs to her emotions.
As the scene begins, Tatiana speaks with a passion and dramatic fire that mimics what she reads in her romance novels— a sign that her fantasies of love are far more real to her than reality (listen for this music again in Act II). Finally, she begins to write. Tchaikovsky cleverly uses the orchestra to depict the scene: the syncopation (off-beat rhythm) of the low strings represents her erratic heartbeat, the oboe and the flute mimic her writing, and the arpeggiation of the harp paints the image of Tatiana dipping her quill in ink.
Tatiana contemplates love (D.A. Belyukin)
Unsatisfied with her words, she tears up her letter. Tatiana is overwhelmed with frustration and fear of rejection, yet the hand of fate drives her to confess her feelings. Once again, the same interlude is heard and Tatiana begins another version of the letter, but ultimately discards it. She is convinced Onegin is the man destiny has chosen for her, despite her obvious fears and doubts; recklessness and rationality are fighting against each other. Eventually, Tatiana takes a moment to ponder the wisdom of her actions, and it is here that Tchaikovsky invokes some of the most sentimental and luscious melodies in the opera as she contemplates her as yet unknown fate. Tatiana asks herself: “Are you, Onegin, my guardian angel or my fatal tempter? Perhaps this is all trivial, an illusion of an inexperienced soul.” The simple rhythm and beautiful chromaticism (pitches not belonging to the primary tonal scale) evoke an overwhelming sense of honesty and hope; she is tempering her heart’s passions with a touch of caution. This is Tatiana’s first rational moment in the entire scene and is a glimpse of the woman she is to become.
However, this moment of rationality is brief and Tatiana decides to commit her life to the hands of destiny. In a musical outburst of elation, this same sentimental motif is transformed into a more dramatic and fanciful state, as if Tatiana’s dream and her reality are at last intermingled. Notice the melody begins with the trombones and interweaves with woodwinds, while the flourishing of the strings mimic Tatiana’s elation. Without hesitation, she signs the letter and before she can change her mind, sends it to Onegin. Anxious but hopeful, she must now wait for an answer…
Tatiana and Onegin years later, with Onegin’s letter to Tatiana at their feet (Lidia Timoshenk)
As you listen to soprano Maria Kanyova sing Tatiana’s beautiful letter scene, you will hear motifs that Tchaikovsky uses throughout the opera. These motifs are Tatiana’s thoughts and emotions, but Tchaikovsky cleverly weaves these motifs into Onegin’s music as he rediscovers Tatiana and this time falls in love with her. Tatiana’s youthful motif reappears in her final scenes with Onegin, where they serve as a symbol of what Onegin once scorned and will never have: a love as pure and honest as Tatiana’s love for him.